New Ugandan sex worker organisation founded

02/07/2009 at 07:46 4 comments

Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy released the following information on their newly founded organisation:

Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) is a  Ugandan sex worker led organization established in August 2008 by 3 passionate and determined sexworkers who have faced harassment, insults, stigma, discrimination and arrest without trial by misinformed societies and who have been stirred into  responsive action concerning the plight of other sexworkers in the same working conditions.

Macklean Kyomya, Daisy Nakato, and Zamu Namagembe, the three young women who founded WONETHA in August 2008 have all had experiences working in the commercial sex industry.  Macklean, WONETHA’s Director, was struggling to pay her  school fees when she followed the advice of her peers and found regular ‘sugar daddies’as a source of income. After witnessing the violent rape of her friend, she began to search for  an organization that would guide and protect her. WONETHA’s programme coordinator  Daisy contracted HIV from one of her first clients when she started working in a bar. During her years as a sex worker, there were many threatening exchanges between Daisy and her clients. After a particularly violent client, Daisy also went in search of a  group that could help her manage her HIV and assist her in diversifying her income.

At different times, each of these women joined an organization that claimed to protect and empower commercial sexworkers, and assist them to find better sources  of income. Social stigma issues were not addressed, each of the women was given different opportunities to continue their education, attend conferences, build advocacy and writing skills, reach out to other commercial sexworkers, and stand in solidarity with women late at night in Kampala’s brothels and streets.

However, this organization was headed by a man, and over time these women found that they were continuing to be exploited and manipulated by the male-headed administration. The staff would work, but were never paid on time. International donations were given to the organization to pay for the different needs of the target group, but none of the members ever received what they were promised. International funding for projects and programs was sent, but often disappeared. Many innovative ideas and opportunities were presented to the Chairperson but they were repeatedly shut down. Attempts to reform the leadership and management were made, but were never successful.

Through this time, the three women were connected by their commitment to improving the self-esteem of women sex workers and breaking the stigma around sexworkers.

Through their experiences, and with the support of many colleagues in the civil society community, these women decided to form an organization that would genuinely represent their dreams and aspirations of providing “a home and hope for marginalized women”.

VISION

“To unite sex workers; to improve our living and working conditions and to fight for equal access to rights so that sex workers’ human rights are defended and protected.”

MISSION

“To work with adult sex workers, organize sex workers claim their rights, call fordecriminalization of adult sex work; promote access to health, legal, and social services; and promote safer sex practices and sex workers’ health and well being.”

Problem Statement: Why focus on rights of sexworkers?

Rights Not Rescue: Sex workers are facing a health and human rights crisis in Uganda, yet very little is being done to protect their rights. Research done across Africa shows that the criminalization of sex work leaves sex workers particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse from law enforcement officials and the general public.  Sex workers experience routine violence from police, including rape, physical assault, and having their genitals sprayed with pepper-spray.

In recent engagement of government by sex workers who are members of WONETHA to have sex work decriminalized, sex workers sought to claim their fundamental right to social and economic freedom, equality, dignity, and privacy. 

Why decriminalization?

Firstly, decriminalization enables the sex industry to be regulated thereby reducing violence against sex workers and cases of human trafficking. It is the oppressors and those committing violence against women who want sex work to remain illegal. Secondly, where sex work is illegal HIV prevalence increases due to difficulties in accessing health care prevention initiatives.

In the New vision of 19th 05 2009 Dr Kihumuro Apuli, Director of Uganda AIDS Commission stated that HIV prevalence among sex workers is 50% and 10% are male clients between  the age of (15-49).  As a sex worker Organization we are deeply concerned that this situation is alarming despite Uganda’s role model image in previous years in the fight of HIV & AIDS.

WONETHA therefore upholds that for sex workers to fully enjoy all their labour-related rights and fundamental freedoms, sex work in Uganda must be decriminalized. Decriminalization will involve the removal of outdated laws which specifically criminalize sex work, enable sexworkers to operate under the same conditions as other workers, and access the same human rights. The sex work industry will be subject to the same laws which apply to all other sectors in Uganda, including existing labour legislation. Other benefits will include;

  • Allowing sex workers to practice their profession openly without fear.
  • Easier access to health care facilities without stigma
  • Reducing the health and life dangers involved in the profession of sex work
  • Allowing sex workers the protection and benefits of the law.
  • More comprehensive health care services for sex workers, including those that address rape, sexual violence, mental health, substance abuse, care of sexworkers who are HIV positive, adolescent health, nutrition and antenatal care/maternal mortality.
  • Freedom to contribute to national tax payment system therefore raising the sex workers self esteem.

WONETHA emphasizes that the current sex worker situation in Uganda calls for immediate action and if the government does not come out to act then Uganda will lose the battle on HIV/AIDS.  As WONETHA we always say that if sexworkers are not safe then no woman is safe.

For more information contact:

Kyomya Macklean
Director
WONETHA-Uganda
P.O.Box 31762, Namirembe Rd, K’la
Tel: +256-414-667-730 / +256 -774-603-754.
Alt Email: wonetha@gmail.com/ kmacklean@yahoo.com
URL. www.wonetha.4t.com

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KYOMYA MACKLEAN  |  12/08/2009 at 12:13

    Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) demands sex work to be decriminalized in Uganda.
    Following a gathering of sex workers in Uganda to seek a solution to the end of violence against sex workers, decriminalization or sex work as agreed as the only way forward. Decriminalization of sex work will enable sex workers access their fundamental human rights: equality, dignity, privacy and free economic activity.
    Why decriminalization? Firstly, decriminalization enables the sex industry to be regulated thereby reducing violence against sex workers and cases of trafficking. It is the criminal and those committing violence against women who want sex work to remain illegal. Secondly, where sex work is illegal HIV prevalence increases due to difficulties in access health care prevention initiatives. In the New vision of 19th 05 2009 Dr Kihumuro Apuli, Director of Uganda AIDS Commission stated that HIV prevalence among sex workers is 50% and 10% are male clients between the age of (15-49). As a sex worker Organization we are worried that this situation is alarming yet in the previous years Uganda has been the role model in the fight of HIV/AIDS.
    WONETHA demands decriminalization of sex work in Uganda. Decriminalization will involve the removal of outdated laws which specifically criminalize sex work, enable sexworkers to operate under the same conditions as other workers, and access the same human rights. The sex industry will be subject to the same laws which apply to all other sectors in Uganda, including existing labour legislation. Other benefits will include;
    • Allowing sex workers to practice their profession openly without fear.
    • Easier access to health care facilities without stigma
    • Giving sex workers more independence
    • Reducing the danger involved in the profession of sex work
    • Allowing sex workers the protection and benefits of the law.
    • More comprehensive health care services for sex workers, including those that address rape ,sexual violence, mental health, substance abuse, care of sexworkers who are HIV positive, adolescent health, nutrition and antenatal care/maternal mortality.
    The paying of taxes,
    This situation calls for immediate action and if the government does not come out to act then Uganda is losing the battle on HIV/AIDS. As WONETHA we always say that if sexworkers are not safe then no woman is safe.

    KYOMYA MACKLEAN

  • 2. KYOMYA MACKLEAN  |  12/08/2009 at 12:19

    SWEAT IN SOUTH AFRICA
    SWEAT is encouraged by recent comments made by Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, highlighting calls for consultation on the decriminalization of sex work. In this context, Motlanthe noted concerns that sex workers are presently vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence, and thus find it difficult to protect themselves from HIV transmission.

    The Deputy President’s comments reflect similar concerns expressed by the South African National Aids Council (SANAC), which also recently recognised that criminalisation of sex work makes women and men vulnerable to violence and HIV infection. Some sectors within SANAC have also begun to exert pressure in favour of decriminalisation. Even more encouragingly, sex workers have now been admitted as a sector in SANAC.

    All of this is very positive and consistent with the thinking of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN). Whilst we have an opportunity and a mandate from SANAC to engage on sex work, the next level of change is to move the debate beyond SANAC and engage the general public, labour and the faith based sectors, as well as to make sure that discussion continues within government.

    In our concerns about public health, and the safety of sex workers, we find we are able to find some common ground with faith-based organisations. Like us, most faith-based organisations strive for a society that is free of injustice, exploitation and violence. However, it is when arguments around morality are made, that we find ourselves differing. SWEAT has found that arguments based on issues of morality, tend to result in calls to strengthen laws against sex workers, and to establish the state as a moral agent. In this way, sex workers are left as scapegoats for a phenomenon that needs to be dealt with in the wider social context.

    While SWEAT recognises that many people believe that sex work is immoral, we would argue that this does not meet it should be legislated against by the state. We can look to the issue of adultery as a model. Many South Africans agree that adultery is immoral, or a sin. Nevertheless, this has not resulted in calls to make it illegal; the morality and legality of adultery are dealt with in separate ways. Faith based groups are not asking for people who commit adultery to be criminalized and be sent to prison. Why should sex work be treated differently? Criminalizing either the sex workers or the clients drives the sex industry underground and increases its criminal potential as well as the harm done to sex workers. Decriminalizing sex work increases public safety and is an effective strategy for stopping the spread of HIV.

    A moral debate should concentrate on finding ways to protect vulnerable members of our society – and it is well recognized that sex workers are among the most vulnerable. Decriminalizing sex work seeks to empower sex workers to take control of their own lives by protecting their human rights and safety in the workplace, as well as assisting those who wish to exit the industry. Surely, this is in line with the ultimate aims and objectives of faith-based groups?

  • 3. Nakato Daisy  |  25/08/2009 at 07:56

    STIGMATIZATION AND DISCRIMINATION OF SEX WORKERS WILL NEVER END IN UGANDA!

    We have tried to sensitize our community on how to treat each other with respect and dignity in spite of what we do, our backgrounds and way of life but it is proving very frustrating in Uganda.
    Members of Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA-Uganda) have forwarded several complaints to our office on how they are treated in our referral centre (Mulago – which is a government and public Hospital) but it’s really embarrassing and horrible.

    Members have said when they reach the Hospital to get STD’s/STI’s treatment at MARPs in Mulago where our members (sexworkers) are offered free STD’s/STI’s treatment, they are examined by the doctors on duty but before they are treated they have to go through the procedures of routine HIV/AIDS testing which would not necessarily be bad, but the challenging part comes in when a sexworker is forwarded to the department which tests HIV/AIDS because MARPS do not handle HIV/AIDS issues.

    After the sexworkers has been diagnosed at MARPS she is recommended to go for blood test in HIV/AIDS department before she is treated with a small note to be given to the doctor who is going to test her blood. The note reads, “She is a sex worker, please take her blood sample for HIV/AIDS test and send her back to our block with her results’’.

    Mulago being a government hospital and offering free services there are very many people in the line waiting to be tested and some few doctors working on different patients in this open space. The doctor reads the note and loudly asks, “Are you a sex worker?” Everyone turns to see who is a sex worker; the doctor goes ahead to ask, “How many men have you had sex with? You are a beautiful woman, why don’t find a man for yourself and get married?”

    You can just imagine how you would feel if you happen to be in the shoes of a sex worker and you are asked such questions in a crowd of such people.
    • How would you feel?
    • What would you do if you are the one?
    • What should we do as sexworkers
    • Should we stop going for treatment and just die in silence?
    • Do sexworkers have a right to access health services like any other human being?
    • How are sexworkers treated in your countries?
    • If they are going through the same situation like ours how have they managed to cope in such an environment?
    • How have human rights activists helped them?

    In the New vision of 19th 05 2009 Dr Kihumuro Apuli, Director of Uganda AIDS Commission stated that “HIV prevalence among sex workers is 50% and 10% are male clients between the age of (15-49) and we should always remember that if sexworkers are not safe then no one is safe. If sexworkers continue to be discriminated in accessing health services then HIV/AIDS prevalence will continue to increase due to fear and stigma and difficulties in accessing health care prevention.”

    After all of the above the Government of Uganda is coming up with a bill to toughen the criminal code on sex work.
    • Do you think our government is being fair or doing the right thing?
    • Do you think sexworkers are criminals or sex work is a crime?

  • 4. Xambogo  |  02/12/2009 at 16:42

    Are you still active in the sex work? Am disappointed at how sex workers have so far ignored the internet as a means of interacting and communicating with each other and with customers, etc… the current underground setups aid that abuse you are talking about.

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